Soccer

John Kennedy feels Reo Hatate return gives Celtic boost ahead of Rangers clash

The influential Japanese midfielder made his first appearance for the Hoops in three months when he started Sunday’s 3-0 win away to Livingston.

Reo Hatate returned to action on Sunday after three months out
Reo Hatate Reo Hatate returned to action on Sunday after three months out (Steve Welsh/PA)

John Kennedy believes the return of creative spark Reo Hatate has given Celtic a huge boost ahead of Sunday’s showdown with title rivals Rangers.

The influential Japanese midfielder made his first appearance for the Hoops in three months when he started Sunday’s 3-0 win away to Livingston after being sidelined with a calf problem.

Hatate shone in West Lothian and was heavily involved in the opener – an own goal by Livi’s Jamie Brandon – as Celtic moved a point clear of Gers, who have a game in hand, ahead of Sunday’s mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash at Ibrox.

“He was on it right from the first minute and he has been in training, which is why the gaffer thought to get him in the team quickly,” said assistant manager Kennedy.

“He’s been terrific the last few weeks. He came back in in good condition and worked really hard.

“We had the game last week (a bounce game against St Mirren) to give him some minutes and he was really good, so it was time to unleash him.”

Kennedy feels Hatate can help make the difference for Celtic as they bid to retain the title over the closing seven games of the campaign.

Reo Hatate helped force Celtic’s opening goal against Livingston
Livingston v Celtic – cinch Premiership – Tony Macaroni Arena Reo Hatate helped force Celtic’s opening goal against Livingston (Steve Welsh/PA)

“I think that’s always the case with your best players,” he said. “He’s shown that, in terms of big games and big performances.

“He’s obviously not fully up to speed but I think we could see (against Livingston) that he’s in pretty good condition, and it’s just the confidence he brings to the team as well.

“He plays with that composure. Even on a difficult pitch, you could see how he brings a calmness to the game. He sees the passes which the front players thrive on and he gives us a slightly different dynamic.

“It’s important to have him back. It’s just about getting him through the week now, getting him that extra bit fitter going into next week.”

John Kennedy is pleased at the way Celtic are shaping up
John Kennedy John Kennedy is pleased at the way Celtic are shaping up (Steve Welsh/PA)

Celtic have been hindered this season by injuries to a string of key players including Hatate, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Alistair Johnston and captain Callum McGregor. However, with McGregor aiming to return at Ibrox, the Hoops hope to be at full strength for the run-in.

“The squad is taking shape,” said Kennedy. “Cam has another 90 minutes under his belt and with Reo back in we’ve pretty much got a full bill of health.

“We’re in good shape going into the run-in, but for us it’s just about focusing on performance and maintaining that level.

“It’s been a challenge (with the injuries) but that’s part of football. It happens sometimes, and it’s affected our rhythm and our performances sometimes.

“But in the last period we’ve been very good. We’ve given away one or two cheap goals which has kept other teams in games, but our attacking play has been really good.”